Despite having tightened the conditions for granting asylum to refugees two years back, Canada’s refugee acceptance rate has increased, especially from nations that are considered ‘safe’ for applicants facing persecution.
In 2012 the federal government started ‘fast-tracking’ asylum claims from 42 nations that are considered safe, in order to restrict refugee asylum and to expedite the application process. But these measures have failed to restrict refugee acceptance rates, which have increased from 38% in 2013 to almost 50% in 2014.
The asylum reforms led to a drop in the number of refugee claims made – from 20,223 refugee in 2012 to 10,356 in 2013, though in 2014 the numbers went up to 13,652.
The new rules apply to asylum claims filed after December 2012, though a significant backlog of applications filed prior to that date are still being assessed under the old rules.
Figures show a 61% acceptance rate for applications assessed under the new rules, much higher than the rate for backlog applications which stands at 34%. The acceptance rate for Hungarian refugees, who are mainly Roma minorities, tripled to 35% by 2014. Acceptance rates also went up for Slovakians (from 3.3% to 52%), Mexicans (from 18.8% to 28.8%) and Czechs (from 4.9% to 21%). These countries all belong to Canada’s ‘safe’ list.
“The government should explain how exactly it considers Hungary ‘safe’ while at the same time recognizing that hundreds of Hungarians have well-founded fears of persecution,” says immigration law professor Sean Rehaag.
According to Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees, the high acceptance rates from the safe countries “contravene the government rhetoric that these countries are safe.”
“The new system was set up to be more difficult so claimants have a shorter amount of time to prepare for their case and collect the documents they need,” says Dench.
Historically the refugee acceptance rates have fluctuated in Canada, depending on factors like the profiles of people applying and the conditions in their countries, says Charles Hawkins of the Immigration and Refugee Board. “It is important to recognize that the country composition of our refugee claim intake is somewhat different than it was before the implementation of the current refugee determination system.”
Processing time for refugee claims has been reduced significantly under the new system, down from around 20 months to less than 3 months. The backlog has also been reduced by two-thirds to 9,877 claims.
The government is satisfied with the results the reforms have brought. “By discouraging bogus asylum seekers and sending them home more quickly, we’re able to provide better service and faster protection for people who are actually in need of Canada’s protection,” says a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.
“All claimants continue to have a fair and independent hearing by professional, highly trained officers. Canada remains second to none in its generosity and fairness, but we have no tolerance for those who take advantage of this generosity and consume welfare benefits and precious health-care resources meant for the truly vulnerable who are in honest need of our protection.”
Professor Rehaag is relaxed about Canada granting refugee protection to a large number of claimants. “The overall figures challenge the government’s assertion that Canada is having its generosity abused by fraudulent claimants,” he says.
The highest number of refugees in Canada comes from China and Pakistan, followed by Hungary, Colombia, Syria, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Haiti.